Somalia-Turkey Defense Pact: Maritime Geopolitics Shift

New Alliance Forms Amidst Red Sea Tensions, Redefining Regional Dynamics

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In the midst of global attention drawn to the Houthi maritime insurgency in the Red Sea, a consequential geopolitical realignment is emerging in the southern region, poised to shape the area’s stability. Last week, the government of Somalia formalized a pivotal 10-year defense and economic cooperation agreement with Turkey, against a backdrop of escalating tensions between Mogadishu and Ethiopia concerning the utilization of the Port of Berbera.

Approximately a month prior, Ethiopia concluded an initial accord with Somaliland, a self-declared autonomous region of Somalia, aimed at securing access rights to the Port of Berbera on the Red Sea coast. In exchange, Somaliland would be granted a share in Ethiopia’s state-owned Ethiopian Airlines and acknowledgment of its sovereign status.

However, this arrangement elicited a robust rebuke from Mogadishu, which accused Ethiopia of unwarranted interference in its internal affairs. Despite Somaliland’s autonomy dating back to 1991, Somalia continues to assert its territorial claim over the region.

In a recent interview, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud asserted that his nation would vigorously defend its interests should Ethiopia proceed with its dealings in Somaliland.

“If Ethiopia persists, Somalia will resist and reject. Should they encroach upon our sovereignty, Somalia will employ all necessary measures for self-defense,” Mohamud affirmed to Reuters, abstaining from elaboration.

President Mohamud clarified that the defense pact with Turkey is chiefly intended for enhancing the capabilities of the Somali military.

“Our appeal to Turkey is not for confrontation with Ethiopia or any other nation. It is a plea for assistance in safeguarding our territorial integrity. This underpins the essence of our agreement with Turkey,” Mohamud emphasized.

The accord received initial sanction from the Somali Cabinet and subsequent endorsement from both houses of Somalia’s Parliament through majority votes. Notably, the agreement encompasses provisions for maritime security enhancement.

“Turkey is committed to the construction, training, and equipping of the Somali navy, aligning with the government’s strategy to combat terrorism, piracy, illegal fishing, hazardous waste disposal, and any external encroachments or threats along Somalia’s coastline,” stated Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry corroborated the cooperation pact with Mogadishu, affirming Turkey’s longstanding commitment to supporting Somalia in military restructuring and counterterrorism efforts.

“At the request of Somalia, we stand prepared to extend our support in maritime security, akin to our contributions in counterterrorism. Hence, our collaboration aims to bolster Somalia’s capacity and capabilities in thwarting illicit and irregular activities within its maritime domain,” articulated a Turkish Defense Ministry official during a press briefing.

Somalia boasts the longest coastline in Africa, spanning nearly 1,900 miles. Regrettably, decades of internal strife have hampered the nation’s capacity to effectively patrol and administer its extensive coastal territories.

In 2011, Turkey reinstated diplomatic ties with Somalia, precipitating a multifaceted cooperation encompassing defense and economic realms. This culminated in Turkey establishing its largest overseas military base in Mogadishu in 2017, designed to accommodate up to 1500 trainees at a time with an initial target of training 10,000 Somali troops.

These initiatives are interpreted within the framework of Turkey’s broader foreign policy agenda, characterized by ambitions to extend Turkish influence in Africa, particularly in the Red Sea vicinity. This trend aligns with similar endeavors by other Middle Eastern powers, evidenced by their operational presence in the Red Sea region. Israel maintains a naval base in Eilat, Egypt oversees four Red Sea bases, while the UAE previously had a naval facility in Eritrea until 2021 and currently maintains an operational base in Yemen’s Socotra Archipelago. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal Naval Base is situated in Jeddah, a prominent Red Sea city within the kingdom.

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